AFF’s first Writers’ Day Retreat of the year took place at New Republic Studios this past Sunday and we thank all of our writers for coming out. We hope that you were able to leave the event with a renewed energy and focus to tackle your projects.
Find some helpful tips for your writing from our great panel of speakers below!
– Brad Coolidge
– Carl Effenson
– Zachary Levi
Read an account of the day from Victoria Brooks, one of the writers who took part in our Writers’ Day Retreat, below!
What is a Writer’s Retreat Anyway? A Vacation to Write?
I’ve seen ads for writer’s retreats before, mostly taking place in some exotic location. Vacations disguised as a time to write. Sure, I fantasized about going to Costa Rica to “find my muse” who somehow disappears in front of a blank screen. The call of my dishes echo louder, and somehow the floor seems dirtier. I will wash, rinse, sweep and… hours pass… still the blank screen sits.
“Fine.” I commit to myself. I’ll sign up for the Retreat and at least force myself to face a screenplay which has patiently been waiting for my vacationing muse. I won’t have the call of dishes or notice a suddenly dirtier floor. I also wanted to tour the New Republic Studios, to see where the magic happens. Surely, my muse will at least visit me there.
As I drive into the Hill Country from Austin, classic Texas country scenes abound. Cattle, ranches and suburban planned communities mix under the glistening sun. The stress of city life drains from my shoulders as I’m captivated by the beauty surrounding me. The Retreat hasn’t yet started, and it only gets better.
I pull into the parking lot, just past the Firehouse building. (Yep, they have a faux firehouse at the Studios. No, I don’t know if they have a pole to slide down. I’ve always wanted to do that.)
The bustle of writers fills the air. Eager anticipation. Excited chatter. We’re gonna write ya’ll. First, some of the people who made it aka “speakers” share their words of wisdom. The takeaways I took from the panel was: It’s hard. Have patience and keep going. The group was funny, poignant, and sincere. I wish I remembered more than that.
There were two designated writing rooms: a “Quiet Room” and one where you could collaborate. I set my laptop bag in the quiet one. I wasn’t going to give myself the option to talk. After all, I’d probably talk about anything before having to face the dreaded blank screen.
Then I was off to the Coldtowne Improv session, where we spent the time freeing our minds by generating ideas and kicking judgment out of the room. Judgment snuck back in mind my mind a couple of times, but I’m getting better at kicking it back out. If you’ve never been, they have free sessions every week (at Coldtowne not at the Studios) so go and check it out. It’s weird. It’s fun. In the end, I envisioned that if I kept going, I too, could become the next Jordan Peele.
I had some super yum BBQ for lunch. They even had tofu for the vegans. As an on-again, off-again vegetarian, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of BBQ tofu. Living in Austin, I’ve had some barbecue. It’s hard to live in Texas and avoid it. Besides who wants to? This BBQ was some of the best I’ve tried.
After that, I was ready to write. I sat down in front of the blank screen and realized I forgot what my screenplay was about. True story. I had to reread the entire first act. I’ve learned more about formatting since then so I made some corrections, was impressed that it was better than I remembered it was.
(I usually alternate between, “I’m great, I’m okay, and I’m a fraud” when it comes to my writing. I usually have two-thirds of myself fighting the odds against myself, if that makes any sense. Now if I can write an awesome fight scene to capture that, I’ll have the next Fight Club in my hands.) So I’ve had to give up wanting to impress others, but I still do, secretly want people to like my writing. My improv teacher’s golden words of advice echo, “If you like what you write, well, at least one person will.”
I can’t quite explain how it feels to see others writing or clacking away at a keyboard, while I’m trying to figure out what to write next. I have my stories fully outlined, so I know the topic. I’m just breaking them into scenes. Judgment stands between me and the words at my fingertips.
What do they know that I don’t? I can’t leave here without finishing five pages. Muse, where are you? I met you halfway. Costa Rica was outside of my budget. Then I think, you know, we were talking about a film noir love story with clowns who feared each other and their reflection trapped in a maze of mirrors. (Yes, this is what you come up with improv. The idea sounds intriguing, though, doesn’t it? ) Anything I write probably won’t be that outrageous, so…
I just write. And that’s how Victoria got her groove back. Ten pages. Ten! I overshot my goal by double. Yeehaw! While I didn’t locate the muse, I found my willingness to tolerate imperfection. Yes, the lines could be better, and they will be…on the next draft. Thank you, Gumshoe the Clown. I’m grateful. Truly.
Then came Happy Hour. We met. We talked. We bounced ideas and shared our progress. Some of us drank. Free wine! We discussed our stories and the thoughts behind them. Thanks, AFF!
We wrapped the day touring the Studios to see where stories come to life. It reminded me that my stories – words on paper, can come true and move people. Touch their heart. Challenge their beliefs. And entertain…me. If I’m lucky? Maybe others, too.
Feeling accomplished, I drive home. The dishes sit calling my name, the not so dirty floor asking for attention. I won this round, guys. Ten pages. Writer’s block, no more.
Dobby, my little brown rescue chi runs up, tail-waggin’. “Did you do it, mama?” I did, Dobby. I did it. I won. I didn’t even have to go to Costa Rica.
And Dobby and I lived writefully ever after…in Austin, Texas. Content that, at least one person liked it. Um… I’m referring to my writing.
As for the Retreat? A whole lotta people liked it, I believe. I don’t know. There were lots of big, authentic smiles, and that was before the alcohol started flowing. Each writer a bit lighter from their battles conquered, pages written, experience lived, and words of wisdom gleaned.
I hope you, too, get to experience the Writer’s Retreat. I’m glad I did.
If you’re interested in coming out to our next Writers’ Day Retreat on June 23, click here.